Chapter 11: A most curious Discovery
The following weeks were filled with regular visits to different people that had just died. It didn't really get more interesting, in fact only the stories the dead had to tell Death as to why they could not be dead yet really differed, but at least Harry got a pretty good idea why Death always spoke so emotionless. If he had dealt with these discussions multiple times a day for thousands of years without much of an outside influence your compassion basically had to vanish to even be able to send soul after soul to the afterlife.
Still, Harry in no way wanted to give up, in fact all of his experiences just made him want to help more, because somehow he had grown to like Death, even if he always seemed so distant.
So on his birthday, the 31st of July, Death gave him a rather unusual present: Since they would visit the first dead wizard today Death had allowed Harry to take a look through his house and ask for anything that he didn't recognize as long as he didn't touch anything. The theory on magical objects was all well and good after all, but viewing them in real life would probably help his understanding immensely.
Because of that Harry was currently walking down a long corridor, decorated with old, moving paintings and marble statues. Obviously the now-dead man belonged to a rich family if the size of the house - well, manor, really - was anything to go by. Also, the man was very stubborn. Harry had watched the discussion for almost twenty minutes, hidden in his invisibility as always, before Death had made a small gesture, almost unnoticeable, that basically meant 'Go exploring, I'll finish this alone'. They had agreed on that after one of the dead had taken almost two hours to convince.
But today, Harry wasn't all too sad about the stubborn soul. That meant more time to go exploring! He had already went through two bedrooms, a dining room, a bathroom and a small library - mostly walking through the walls because he didn't dare using the doors in case there was some living person nearby. Death had warned him that they weren't alone here today, so Harry tried being as careful as possible.
He continued his small adventure for a while, until he accidentally stumbled upon some kind of study room. It wasn't the first one he had seen, but this one was occupied as a strict looking man sat at the desk, with long, blond hair falling over his shoulders as he seemed to write something that laid in front of him. Harry inhaled sharply, glad for the fact that being invisible on the third stage meant that he was currently inaudible too.
He already wanted to hurry back out, as he felt something weird. He didn't know what it was, but he felt... uneasy. He frowned. He hadn't felt that way before, so maybe it was something in this room? Taking a few steps backwards - carefully avoiding bumping into anything, because he wasn't concentrated enough to walk through it right now - he noticed the weird feeling disappearing. Only to reappear when he walked back to the huge bookshelf that occupied the far wall of the room, the one behind the desk where the man sat.
He hesitated a moment, before hurriedly leaving the room - carefully existing through a wall next to the door - remembering the path he used to return to Death. Once he had arrived he was glad to see that Death had finally finished his business, was just putting away his scythe as Harry arrived.
"Yes?", he asked, probably seeing Harry's strange expression.
"Umm…" Harry was hesitating again, wondering if it was wise to tell Death what he had felt - maybe he had imagined that? - but in the end decided that he could at least try. Death had told him he was allowed to ask about anything after all. "I think I saw something strange, back in some kind of study room..."
Death continued to look at him. "Strange? In what way?"
"Well, I'm not quite sure, I just had this feeling at some bookshelf there... I can't really explain it, it was weird somehow..."
"Alright, then lead me to it if you please."
Harry nodded and quickly left the room again, making his way over to where he now knew the study was located. They walked through the wall together and Harry pointed at the bookshelf he got this weird feeling from. Death walked over to it and the moment he got close to it Harry saw something he hadn't seen ever before: Death was actually frowning! In fact, he was looking almost murderous...! Not daring to say anything, Harry just watched as Death walked over to the shelf, picking up one of the books - thankfully without alerting its owner - and actually glaring at it. Harry frowned. What was so special about this book? For him it looked like any other in these shelves...
Thankfully, this weirdness only lasted a moment. As sudden as it had begun, Death's bad mood seemed to be over again and he was just blankly staring at the book before pocketing it. Still, something about this bothered Harry... After all, Death had been the one to tell him not to touch anything. But at least this confirmed Harry's worries about there being something strange in this room...
He jumped a little as Death turned around to look at him.
"I am afraid we have to cut this trip short. What you discovered was something I had not thought to ever see within a human's grasp. At least not this human." He slowly shook his head. "We should be going back. I have a lot to think about now..."
Not quite sure what he was hinting at but not wanting to object Harry nodded, easily taking Death's hand when it was offered to vanish inside of one of his Shadow Portals...
Two weeks passed and despite quite a few tries, Harry could not get Death to reveal what he had found back in the dead wizards manor. He tried asking Sinistra but she also had no idea what might be going on... So he was left feeling frustrated, trying to put this focus into his studies instead but not quite succeeding.
Surprisingly this problem solved itself a few days later when one afternoon instead of starting his lesson, Death looked at him with a serious aura, the book he had taken from the manor in his hands. At Harry's questioning glance he nodded.
"Yes, I will tell you what's going on now.", he told him, almost sounding annoyed. But only almost. Harry brightened, but Death wasn't finished yet. "Do not look so happy. It is not a particularly joyful thing. In fact, it is all but joyful." He placed the book on the table in front of them and opened it. But as far as Harry could see, the pages where blank, so what was wrong with? He got his answer a moment later. "This is a Horcrux." At Harry's blank look he added: "Horcruxes are fragments of a soul, broken off from their original part to be stored inside of an object. They are very rare and the process of how to create them is only known to the most evil wizards. The only thing commonly known is that you have to kill a person to split your soul."
Harry's eyes widened as he slowly started to understand what Death was trying to implicate. "S-So you mean to say… This thing contains a soul?" He stared at the book which was innocuously lying on the table in front of them. That it was supposed to contain a soul fragment seemed unbelievable... But Death's nod confirmed his fears and he gulped. "Which wizard…?"
"Tom Riddle. You probably know him under the name 'Voldemort'," Death answered and Harry couldn't help but gasp a little. "I think we already agreed on the fact that he isn't dead. The difference is that now we know the 'Why?'. And yes, as you may have realised, splitting one's soul is about the worst offence against me one can achieve as this makes it impossible for me to find their creator and I cannot even track their Horcruxes better than any human could, except for having this feeling you probably experienced yourself when finding it." He looked at the book again, looking almost a little gleeful now. "But this thing can."
Harry frowned. "How do you mean that?"
"This has once been part of its master. That means it probably knows best what he had planned. And this includes further plans for Horcruxes if there were any."
"You mean, one can communicate with them?", Harry asked, surprised.
Death nodded. "Sometimes. Although I am forbidden to do so." He looked at Harry. "But you are not."
Slowly, Harry began to understand why Death had told him about the diary now. "You mean… I should try talking to it, trying to figure out if this thing knows more about other Horcruxes?"
"Exactly. Although I will not force you as this task could be potentially dangerous. Talking to Horcruxes always includes certain risks, so be prepared if you really want to do this."
Harry nodded, thoughtfully, but in his mind he was already set on this. He would probably have to learn dealing with Horcruxes sooner or later anyway so why not start early?
"I want to do this," he said resolutely after another moment of thought and Death nodded again.
"Very well." He took the book and headed to Harry. "Just one more warning: Never tell a Horcrux too much of yourself. It will start leeching on your life force to get stronger, maybe it will even trying to overtake your body. Horcruxes are vile beings, souls that can neither get into the afterlife nor back to their original body."
Harry swallowed hard when hearing that, but still, he had to do this. So he nervously took the book from Death and opened it, flipping through the pages. His original assessment had been correct, all of them were empty. He looked back at Death. "Umm... How do I communicate with this? Should I write in it?"
"This seems to be the most probable way, yes."
So he took a quill and some ink and stared at the blank pages for a moment before beginning to write.
For a moment nothing happened but then suddenly the ink disappeared, forming new words, written in an elegant script that certainly didn't belong to him, making him gasp and letting Death utter a quiet hum.
'Hello. Who are you?'
He thought a moment about how much he wanted to reveal.
'I'm Harry. And you?'
The book needed a moment before an answer appeared.
'My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?'
Harry weighted his options, knowing that Death was probably reading everything he wrote over his shoulders.
'I found it in a bookshelf and wondered why it was empty... Though I didn't know it could talk back.'
'Yes, I am rather special.'
He frowned at the pages. This book… Horcrux… thingy really was full of itself, wasn't it? He considered writing an answer but before he could do so more words had formed.
'How old are you, Harry?'
'I am eight years old. What about you?'
Maybe if they knew his age they could estimate when is this Horcrux was created.
'Well, you sound rather mature for your age, I have to say. And I am sixteen.'
Only sixteen? That meant Voldemort had still been in school when creating this blasted thing...!
'Thank you,' he wrote nevertheless, while already wondering if there was an easy way to somehow start talking about Horcruxes of all things. For now he would try to play naïve... Maybe 'Tom' would be more talkative that way? 'So… Have you always been a book?'
'What do you mean?'
'Well... I don't know. You could be some enchanted prince or something.'
'Ah. No, I'm not a prince, at least not in that way. But yes, I was a human once. Now I am just his memories from the past.'
So that was how he was explaining himself? Interesting...
'Very much so. Still, I have slept for a very long time. Would you mind telling me which year it is?'
There was another short pause.
'I see. It has been longer than I thought.'
Their conversation went on for a while, with Tom starting to ask quite a few questions about some historical events, before beginning to almost interrogate Harry. At first, the questions where easy ones but after a while started to turn more serious and Harry intervened with a question himself.
'Why do you want to know so much about me?'
'I am simply interested in what somebody living fourteen years the future may have experienced.'
'But maybe I am interested in you too?'
A few seconds passed.
'Well, what do you want to know?'
Harry thought for a moment. This might be his chance...!
'Is there anything you are afraid of?'
'Now, that's a weird question. But yes, of course there is. Everyone has fears.'
'Well, then, which is yours?'
'This is a rather personal question.'
'Yours weren't much better before, either...'
'Point taken. If you must know, I am afraid of dying. But since I am a memory now this isn't a real problem any longer.'
Harry bit his lip as he continued to write, hoping he wouldn't blow it.
'Is this why you created a Horcrux?'
His words vanished and there was a long pause in which Harry already feared that he had been too fast when some writing appeared again.
'Did Abraxas tell you?'
'Who is Abraxas?'
'What do you mean "Who is Abraxas"? Are you not a Malfoy?'
The next thing he knew was how some unknown force suddenly pulled at him, making him cry out in surprise and try to step away from the diary, but it was as if his fingers were glued to the pages and something was pulling his energy towards them.
He didn't know what would have happened had Death not stepped forward this moment, taking the book and drawing something on its cover in a fluid motion which instantly let the feelings stop while the book started glowing softly. But Harry's attention was elsewhere as Death fixed him with a stare.
"I told you to be careful! Your basic idea was good, but you were too hasty. Next time, give your opponent more time to grow accustomed to your naïvety before giving up your knowledge."
"I- I'm sorry," Harry stuttered, still feeling rather shaken from this weird experience and not even sure what had been going on. "What was this?"
"The Horcrux tried to overpower you. It obviously underestimated you though, which was good. Like that I had time to do this." He pointed at the cover that now spotted some circular mark on it that hadn't been there before. At Harry's questioning glance he explained further. "This is what the Flamels call 'Mark of Death'. Normally I need a person's agreement before giving them my mark, but this was a special case as you, as my apprentice, were in danger." He looked at the diary. "It should be a lot easier to deal with this now. Just let me explain to him what happened."
"I thought you weren't allowed...?"
"I was not allowed to communicate with a Horcrux. But I can explain to somebody who just received my mark what that entails." With that Death opened the book, took a quill and started writing. Harry couldn't see his exact wording, but he was rather sure Tom wouldn't like it. Not that he minded. This attack right now had rather frightened him, so he thought it was just fair...
After that day Tom refused to write anything more into the diary. And while this hindered their efforts regarding Horcruxes both of them didn't really mind. Death just suggested to look at the pages every few days, 'just in case'.
Like that, the next months passed peacefully with no other remarkable things happening, except for the fact that Death had began teaching him about the mechanics of Shadow Portals and that he was beginning to get more and more of his magical lessons from Salazar Slytherin instead of Death, who focussed more on his other subjects like muggle stuff and whatever was needed as his apprentice. Because of that Harry was also introduced to some minor curses that were classified as Dark Magic nowadays and Parselmagic, something only available to Parseltongues. Next to the Parseltongue script this also included how to give snakes orders they had to obey and connecting with snakes as to be able to see out of their eyes for a while... His free time was still occupied with playing with Sinistra and talking to his parents, listening to all kind of stories they told him. All in all, Harry spent a rather happy time in Death's Realm.
On the 31st of October - Samhain, as Harry had been taught, though muggles referred to it as Halloween - Death had another surprise for him. They were going to visit Godric's Hollow, the village where his parents had lived and died. A Shadow Portal brought them directly to the town square, invisible again of course, and although Harry was rather nervous he also was incredibly curious about how his parents had lived. Sadly, when they closed in on the house they could see that it was closed off, turned into some kind of memorial site. In fact, there even was a huge statue of him and his parents in the town square, easily visible once you came close, but it held no real resemblance to any of them, so he wondered who created it without ever having seen their faces.
The most interesting thing they found when they finally visited the small graveyard of the town though. It wasn't too difficult to find the grave of his parents, but the epitaph confused him. Actually he was so confused that he couldn't help but summoning his parents to look at it. Lily was the first to recognise the place and notice the epitaph.
"What's that?", she asked, looking almost horrified at the writing. "James, do you remember ever thinking about having something like this as an epitaph?"
James needed a moment longer, but when he noticed a frown appeared on his face. "No, I certainly do not. What's that even supposed to mean 'The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death'?"
"It's a quote from the Bible," Death said from behind Harry, speaking up for the first time now.
"The Bible?", James asked. "This muggle book about their religion?"
"It is one of many, yes," Lily answered him. "But why would anyone use a biblical quote as our epitaph? We weren't exactly religious... And even if we were, the quote still doesn't really fit."
"Can't we just change it?", Harry wondered aloud, looking at Death.
"Of course you can. It is the grave of your parents after all," he said. "And I must agree with you that this quote doesn't seem fitting. Do you have an alternative?"
Harry thought about it, before shaking his head.
"Not really… I've never thought about epitaphs before..."
There was a moment of silence before Death spoke up again. "How about 'To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure'? It is one of Nicolas' favourite quotes regarding me."
Harry looked at his parents. After all, it was their gravestone, so they should be allowed to decide. Both looked thoughtful for a moment, before Lily spoke up.
"Yes, I think I like it."
"Definitely sounds loads better than the current one," James agreed.
Death nodded. "Very well." He looked at Harry. "Do you want to try making the change? The spell you can use shouldn't be too difficult."
Harry looked surprised for a moment, before nodding resolutely. If it wasn't so difficult, he definitely would want to try it.
So Death told him the spell and the proper wand movements before conjuring some other stone to practice on, so that Harry could change the words on the gravestone once he had actually mastered the spell.
Thankfully it really wasn't very difficult to cast and so he only needed a little bit of practice before he finally could change the offending epitaph on his parents gravestone to something more fitting. He stepped back, happy with his results, and both of his parents complimented him, making him blush slightly.
Now, that had really been a nice visit. He would definitely repeat that next year!
Surprise! Who of you would have guessed that the new character is none other than Tom Riddle? Although his appearance was rather short-lived I have to say. I still hope you liked the short visit at Godric's Hollow too (and the unknown manor at the beginning - Well it's rather obvious which one that was, eh?)
Next chapter should have some change of scenery, at least for a bit... And maybe it will even explain already how Death actually gets to all the dead people... We will see.
As always, I thank all people who favourited/Followed this story and maybe even reviewed it. I'm still feeling so happy about those as if it was still the first chapter...!